Utopia and Anti-Utopia - A comparison of Thomas More’s Utopia and George Orwell’s 1984


Seminar Paper, 2003

20 Pages, Grade: 1


Excerpt

Contents:

1. Introduction

2. A short summary of the main aspects and specific features of Utopia and Nineteen Eighty-Four
2.1 Thomas More's Utopia
2.2 George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four

3. Comparison of seemingly different aspects in Thomas More’s Utopia and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
3.1 The role of history and culture
3.1.1 Utopia
3.1.2 Nineteen Eighty Four
3.2 Loss of individuality
3.2.1 Utopia
3.2.2 Nineteen Eighty Four

4. Is Utopia a place of social control?...
4.1 The Christian view
4.2 Conformity
4.3 Utopia described from a personal perspective
4.4 Fear as a motive power in Utopia
4.5 Christian communism compared to Marxist communism
4.6 Summary

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction:

In the following paper I want to examine the relationship between Thomas More´s Utopia and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. As both these texts offer a wealth of material for interpretation, I want to concentrate mainly on emphasizing the similarities in the description of the political and social systems. I will attempt to underline these very essential resemblances by examining how life in Utopia differs from life in Nineteen Eighty-Four for the individual social being.

After reading Utopia for the first time It seemed to me an important question to examine the world of Utopia from a different angle, by comparing it to the opposite, politically charged Anti-Utopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In comparing these texts I began to ask myself if Thomas More was actually well ahead of his time in constructing the world of Utopia. Taking Orwell’s text into consideration, I felt that there was a striking similarity between the texts although they differed in their criticism and point of departure.

What I want to explore in the following pages is to show how the political system of Utopia depends on an unyielding denial of human individuality, a denial that is an essential part of the ideology in Nineteen Eighty-Four. My main argument will be that Utopia is not the happy place it wants us to present, but a system of total control and oppression, very similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although different in its overall impression, Utopia leaves a great deal of questions to the reader. The most striking one is, how the Utopians themselves evaluate the laws and rules of Utopia. Finally, I will attempt to emphasize the interrelationship and logical consequence of Anti- Utopia as a possible answer towards Utopian idealism.

2. A short summary on the main aspects and specific features of Thomas More's Utopia and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

2.1 Thomas More's Utopia

The description of Thomas More´s Utopia, which was published in 1516, is divided into two parts. The first book basically contains former conversations and discussions with the cardinal and lord chancellor John Morton about various aspects of the unjust and decadent English society and criminal law, the second book contains a detailed description of Raphael Hythlodaeus, a famous traveller, of the island Utopia. Utopia is described as a system of perfect social stability and equality as it is founded on the central ideal of man as a reasonable being in a community that nourishes everyone and cares for all. The efficiently organized macrocosm provides food, standard clothing, work and housing and produces in abundance[1] all the goods that are necessary for the modest life of the utopians.

At the core of the utopian model is the idea of humans as rational beings, which will not trade greed and envy for the stability, happiness, and prosperity that Utopia provides. Thus, utopians seem to be happy and satisfied with what they have and scorn on those who strive for prestigious goods like gold or silver. Those luxury materials are used for low-value things like the chains they use for slaves[2]. These happen to be only few: no utopian needs to be criminal because everything needed is provided for.

However, Utopia is not a system of laziness or lethargy as every member is urged to work not less or more than six hours in his desired profession to produce goods that are needed by the population of Utopia. This

The system of Utopia is based on simple truths and does not require its inhabitants to become scholars of particular philosophical traditions or sciences in order to rise in social rank. The family as the core of the utopian society provides all the necessary information and education that one needs in living a happy and satisfied life in Utopia. Social ranks are abolished and replaced with a communist-like system of equal rights and rule of majority.

The utopians are pragmatic people. The main interest for the stability of Utopia is the happiness and satisfaction of its inhabitants, enough food and housing for everyone and the absence of greed and envy through the abolition of money.

Given the time and circumstances in which Utopia was written, it becomes evident that this book is indirectly an expression of social criticism on the English society and its inequality and injustice. The most obvious example can be found in the discussions on the English criminal law between Thomas More and John Morton where More offers a surprisingly profound and appropriate analysis on the crime problem[3]. These passages among others show how More may seem to be well ahead of his time in understanding the dynamics of an unjust society. However, More leaves the question, whether the book was to be received as a description of a possible state or rather fiction mixed with social criticism[4], unanswered.

2.2. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by Eric Arthus Blair or better know under the pseudonym George Orwell shortly before his death in 1950, is perhaps one of the most important dystopian novels of the last century. Unlike Thomas More`s Utopia, it portrays the world in the future and gives a very grim outlook. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, The world is divided in three totalitarian continents namely Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. These three states are constantly changing positions from friend to foe and are always at war.

The society in Nineteen Eighty-Four consists of three social classes, The Inner party which consists of 2 % of the population, The Outer Party 13% of the population, and the so-called proles, the lowest class. Unlike Utopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four is told from a personal perspective by the character Winston, a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry Of Truth, where every information in news or television is filtered and manipulated.

Moreover, a new language called Newspeak is invented in order to delete all unnecessary words of the dictionary that might contain emotional value[5]. Thus for example, a word pair like good – bad is translated into good – ungood.

The general atmosphere of the world Orwell portrays can best be characterized by the terms authoritarianism and totalitarianism. However, Orwell’s world is not just a place of complete control over the lives of each citizen but their thoughts as well. A large telescreen in every household observes each and every citizen and minimizes privacy or intimacy. Even a suggestive facial expression towards the telescreen or the absence at one of the regular propaganda meetings can cause one to be arrested by the thought police. There is no political opposition since all opponents have been eradicated and their records completely deleted from any historical record; they do not exist and have never existed.

At the core of the system is Big Brother, the omnipotent overseer of every aspect of life. Big Brother as the personification of control and power is branded in everyone’s mind and is present everywhere, through the telescreens and posters in the streets or other public places.

As mentioned before, life in Nineteen Eighty-Four is characterized by fear and submission but also by very miserable living conditions and constant shortages of food, clothes and other goods. The houses are as the people in a desolate state and contradict the images that are shown in the propaganda movies[6].

There seems only little hope for revolution or change when looking at the suppressive structure and yet, the secret relationship between Winston and Julia shows sings of rebellion and discontent. Moreover, The myth of the so-called Brotherhood as a small, organized group of opponents and their leader Emmanuel Goldstein as the central antagonist of Big Brother embody the possibility of upheaval. In the end however, all hope is smashed as O’Brien, an apparent agent of the Brotherhood reveals himself to be the head of the Thought Police and becomes the chief executive in Winston’s brutal brainwashing sessions. These sessions are in particular important as they reveal the very logic of how complete thought control works in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The conditioning process aims at destroying the common sense and human reason by replacing it with absolute and uncompromising submission, even if this would contradict with the laws of nature and logic.

It is not a coincidence that the Inner Party’s name INGSOC indirectly refers to the words English socialism[7], as Orwell was heavily criticizing the Stalinist version of communist totalitarianism and feared that the terrible atrocity of the Nazi Regime could be repeated under Stalin. Thus, many parallels can be found in Nineteen Eighty-Four that resemble a dictatorship that was already established by Stalin in the former U.S.S.R.

[...]


[1] Klaus J. Heinisch, der utopische Staat (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1993. 59-60.

[2] Heinisch 66.

[3] Willi Erzgräber, Utopie und Antiutopie in der englischen Literatur (München: Fink. 1980. 24 – 26.

[4] Richard Marius, Utopia as Mirror for a Life and Times

(Internet: http://www.humanities.ualberta.ca/emls/iemls/conf/texts/marius.html)

[5] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Group, 1989) 55.

[6] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Group, 1989) 63.

[7] Krishnan Kumar, Utopia and anti-utopia in modern times (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987) 289.

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Details

Title
Utopia and Anti-Utopia - A comparison of Thomas More’s Utopia and George Orwell’s 1984
College
University of Hannover  (Englisches Seminar Universität Hannover)
Course
Utopias of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Grade
1
Author
Year
2003
Pages
20
Catalog Number
V42740
ISBN (eBook)
9783638407069
ISBN (Book)
9783638763219
File size
544 KB
Language
English
Notes
In the following paper I want to examine the relationship between Thomas More´s Utopia and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. As both these texts offer a wealth of material for interpretation, I want to concentrate mainly on emphasizing the similarities in the description of the political and social systems. I will attempt to underline these very essential resemblances by examining how life in Utopia differs from life in Nineteen Eighty-Four for the individual social being.
Tags
Utopia, Anti-Utopia, Thomas, More’s, Utopia, George, Orwell’s, Utopias, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Centuries
Quote paper
Raoul Festante (Author), 2003, Utopia and Anti-Utopia - A comparison of Thomas More’s Utopia and George Orwell’s 1984, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/42740

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